TORONTO — Simply as you can’t (but) belief within the Toronto Maple Leafs discovering playoff success, you possibly can completely belief of their loyalty to at least one one other.
From the highest on down, a direct line of perception will be traced from membership president Brendan Shanahan to common supervisor Kyle Dubas to move coach Sheldon Keefe to the core gamers nonetheless aiming to interrupt via after 5 postseasons of disappointment.
All that trickle-down confidence within the franchise’s main personalities has resulted in a two-year contract extension for Keefe, effectively earlier than the puck drops on his first full 82-game schedule behind the Leafs’ bench.
(Pierre LeBrun was first to report the deal. Phrase is, an settlement had been in place for a while and the Leafs saved it quiet.)
Keefe’s new deal, which is able to expire on the conclusion of the 2023-24 marketing campaign, eliminates the burden and hypothesis that so usually clouds and clutters the ultimate 12 months of a coach’s deal.
In idea, the added safety ought to dissuade hot-seat rumours if Keefe’s Leafs stumble out of the gate in October and permit the bench boss to concentrate on steering his roster via a aggressive Atlantic Division.
(Merely ask Travis Inexperienced and followers of the Vancouver Canucks if an expiring contract generally is a distraction.)
Dubas, sources say, didn’t interview another candidates earlier than hiring Keefe halfway via the 2019-20 season as Mike Babcock’s handpicked substitute.
Keefe’s extension means that the destiny of each males is hitched to the success of this Maple Leafs core.
Keefe, 41, was requested straight about his emotions about his personal job safety when coaching camp opened final week.
“There hasn’t been a day once I’ve considered it,” Keefe replied. “There additionally hasn’t been a day once I don’t acknowledge the duty that I’ve towards our followers, our possession and our workforce.
“I do not assume there’s something [new] there when it comes to the calls for or the strain. I knew precisely what I used to be stepping into, and I settle for the duty that comes with that.”
Since graduating from the AHL Marlies — and sipping from the 2018 Calder Cup with Dubas — Keefe has guided the Maple Leafs to a glowing 62-29-12 regular-season file (.660 factors share). By means of his first 100 video games, Keefe earned extra wins (61) than any Leafs coach in historical past.
Keefe has, nevertheless, been outwitted in each the 2020 bubble in opposition to the Columbus Blue Jackets and within the first spherical of the 2021 playoffs, when Toronto squandered a 3-1 collection result in the Montreal Canadiens. His stubbornness to steer stars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner away from the Canadiens’ shutdown line, helmed by Phillip Danault, stays a blemish.
And Friday’s launch of All or Nothing: Toronto Maple Leafs will give followers a deeper perception into how the F-bomb-spewing bench boss conjures up, communicates, and manages the star energy below his command.
A midseason AHL call-up in 2019, Keefe arrived with a fraction of the hoopla and repute and payroll as his predecessor, but he’s motivated and meshed abilities younger and outdated, steering the 2019-20 Leafs to their finest defensive effort in a technology and first divisional crown in 21 years.
“He’s been nice,” mentioned Morgan Rielly, the longest-serving Leaf. “Keefer, he lets guys play, however he additionally has a really strict construction. He balances that extraordinarily effectively, and that is necessary.”
Take into account some optimistic developments in Leafland since Keefe grabbed the reins:
• Matthews gained the Rocket Richard Trophy and developed right into a two-way drive below Keefe, who positioned premier setup man Marner on his wing and allow them to run roughshod.
• Jason Spezza, famously wholesome scratched on his first evening as a Leaf, has thrived, producing extra offence at age 38 than he has in 4 years and changing into a key go-between for the workers.
• Toronto switched beginning goalies for the primary time in 5 years and it got here with minimal controversy.
• William Nylander’s buttons have been pushed publicly a pair instances, and the winger has responded fabulously, producing at a profession price.
• Yr over 12 months, the Leafs have improved from twenty sixth in objectives allowed per sport to seventh, regardless of taking part in in essentially the most goal-happy division.
• Justin Holl’s ascent from the outhouse to the penthouse.
• The outdated workforce used to speak about beginning on time; the present one does.
Keefe is a line-tinkerer, an opportunity-giver, a data-consumer, and a praise-deflector. Ask him about T.J. Brodie, you would possibly get a solution about Rielly — and vice versa. When he fields his umpteenth query about Matthews, he’ll remind that Marner wants extra credit score for his contributions to the highest line.
Rielly says the Leafs now have “a unique mentality” earlier than the puck drops. There’s an elevated emphasis on putting first, on backchecking, and on defenders making good pinches in an effort to delay possession.
Keefe is a tireless employee, devoted to creating himself and his gamers higher. Whereas the remainder of the world tumbled right into a Netflix algorithm throughout a pandemic quarantine, Keefe memorably confessed he was “binge-watching the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
Now, lastly, Keefe’s contract will outlast Babcock’s.
He can concentrate on balancing out his four-line assault, coping with Toronto’s first pure goalie tandem in half a decade, enhancing some somewhat shoddy particular groups, and — most necessary — successful a playoff spherical or two or 4.
As all coaches know, this can be a outcomes enterprise.
And when your pockets are as deep because the Maple Leafs’, you’re not afraid to pay a person to not coach for you.
Keefe’s contract-year strain could also be alleviated, however the strain of operating the Maple Leafs’ bench isn’t going wherever.